When you’re on an audio conference call, all you have to communicate about yourself is your voice. While reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, I became acutely aware of how people—particularly women—tend to consistently undermine themselves in everyday communications with small, yet significant, choices. The impact of these choices are cumulative and can erode professional reputation, self-confidence and long-term career progress. Below are seven ways both women and men sabotage themselves every day in meetings—especially during audio calls—and how you can stop making these communication mistakes.
- Does that make sense?
If you ask whether your ideas make sense right after you’ve communicated them, you invalidate your position. Rather than ask if your ideas have made sense to the audience, ensure that your ideas are clearly communicated, maintain eye contact as you look for confused faces, and then pause to ask for questions if you start noticing a few blank stares or furrowed brows.
- Sorry, but…
Similar to the previous point—but more insidious—you are apologizing before you’ve even communicated your point in the first place. And if you aren’t meek in nature, you may be using this as the ultimate passive-aggressive move. On audio calls in particular, the “Sorry, but” is often used as a verbal crowbar to interrupt other speakers or veer conversation off-topic and can undermine positive team chemistry and trust.
- Qualifiers and diluters
Using phrases such as “I almost think/I kind of think” are a similar to apologies in their effect on verbal communications in how they erode the speaker’s power and authority. If you must introduce your thoughts with “I think”—and consider the fact that this implied and doesn’t need to be overtly stated—at least do yourself the favor and don’t water down your own thoughts.
- Worst: I almost think the budgets are getting low.
- Better: I think the budgets are low.
- Best: The budgets are low, and here’s what we need to do about it.
- Crutch words
If you find yourself introducing your thoughts with “actually,” honestly,” or “truthfully,” you’re using crutch words, and they say more about your communication than you think. Unconsciously, we reveal ourselves in the words we are drawn to, not unlike body language “tells,” and though most are harmless, a few can reveal dishonesty or a lack of intelligence, and many are stalling techniques, so don’t think that you are kidding anyone by using them.
Not easy to describe, but we all know that California lilt when we hear it. Upspeak is a relatively recent affliction in contemporary communication and more common to women. When the inflection of your voice rises at the end of sentences, a pattern typically associated only with questions, you are a victim of upspeak. The implied subtext of upspeak is requesting permission or desiring approval from the group, and by allowing this vocal pattern, you undermine your personal empowerment. On audio conference calls, upspeak strips authority and muddies clear conversation—are you telling me or asking me?
- Rushing your words
Take a breath. Punctuate your words and pause in between sentences. In the context of our “instant gratification” world, information comes at an instant through our our devices, but we don’t often have the time nor the space to think, just to react. If you are moderating the meeting, prepare an agenda in advance, and pace the topics with plenty of space for questions and dialog. If you find yourself habitually rushing through your words as a participant, do a bit of soul-searching and ask yourself why you’re talking yourself out of simple, clear communications. Do you feel the need to over-explain? Are you just nervous? Understanding the underlying reasons behind this bad habit is often the key to its cure.
There is a time to listen, but there is also a time to speak. Those of us who are introverts tend to default to silence as a “comfort zone,” and others may be withholding information to serve personal advantage rather than collaborative goals. Additionally, multitaskers beware: as your devices capture your attention in the moment, that can be all the time it takes before you’re now lost in the conversation. A few minutes absorbed in texting or email can run your attention span aground during an in-person meeting, and during audio calls, multitasking is so prevalent it’s almost a given. In fact, research shows that in meetings or just our daily lives, multitasking causes a 25% decline in productivity. To avoid multitasking urges, minimize Outlook, close your browser and non-relevant documents, and change your Lync status to “Busy” before beginning your next conference call.
Regardless of whether the meeting is in-person or on the phone, clear communication is a priority. If possible, host your audio call using a web or video conferencing software so you can engage people face-to-face in a virtual environment and, regardless of dysfunctional communication, silence or annoying interruptions, you can still progress forward in projects and build relationships. Regardless of the collaboration tool you are using, the world needs your contribution. It’s time to start sharing your ideas with respect without diminishing yourself or others.